This week we’ll take a look at a player whose lack of promotion continues to puzzle, and a couple of players who recently received a promotion. We also take a look at a couple of top players at the lower levels of the organization, a struggling first round pick, and check in on a couple of prospects with interesting future potential.
Triple-A Pawtucket: Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, and Pat Light, RHP
It might seem odd that Jackie Bradley Jr. is still on a list of Fenway’s Future players, but that is the case as he has remained at Pawtucket despite a need for him in Boston. The reason for keeping Bradley Jr. in the minor leagues is unclear, though last week Bryan Grosnick outlined several potential motives. Regardless, he is still playing everyday at Pawtucket, and playing very well. It is no secret that Bradley Jr.’s primary issue in his limited stints in the major leagues has been hitting. In his 543 major league plate appearances, almost a whole season’s worth, he has a .192/.266/.273 line, which equates to a .203 TAv. It was never anticipated that he would be a star at the plate, but that line is ugly. What makes the matter really puzzling is that through 631 plate appearances at Triple-A he had a .286/.362/.445 line, which is roughly a .301 TAv. The jump to the major leagues is a big one, but that drastic a change in performance seems odd. Still, it really seems like Bradley Jr. does not have much more to learn at the minor league level.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox appear to have seen enough of him flailing away at the major league level and intend on keeping him in Pawtucket for the foreseeable future. He is the best defensive outfielder in the organization and maybe in the game, but cannot break through with the bat to hold a major league roster spot. Now, while he does not have much to learn at Triple-A, keeping him there could be part of an effort to make him look shiny to potential trade partners, or part of a longer term plan of getting him ready for a spot in the major league outfield in 2016. Shane Victorino will be out of the mix next year but things will still be crowded with Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and Hanley Ramirez all likely to keep their spots.
While Bradley Jr. is having trouble earning a promotion, Pat Light was promoted from Double-A Portland to Triple-A Pawtucket last week. Light’s move to the bullpen has served as a catalyst for his ascent through the minor leagues. Earlier this year I checked in on Light when he had struck out a third of the 27 batters. Well, not much has changed in his performance over the next 91. He posted a 27.1 strikeout rate for Portland, allowing fewer than one runner to reach base per inning pitched, and that is even with difficulty in walking batters (9.3 walk rate). Reports are that he has ditched his main secondary pitches in favor of his splitter, which mixed with his mid-90s fastball has been very effective. If Light can maintain his velocity and effectiveness in Pawtucket he may be due for a promotion to the big leagues later this year. The major league team could use a hard-throwing reliever who can work some of the 6th and 7th innings ahead of Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. That pitcher could also come in the form of Joe Kelly and his 96 mile-an-hour fastball, but the Sox seem content to keep trying him as a starter, so help in the ‘pen will need to come from elsewhere.
Double-A Portland: Oscar Tejeda, IF/OF
Of the players with at least 100 plate appearances for the Sea Dogs, Tejeda is the fourth best hitter by wRC+ (111). He has spent time in the Red Sox, Pirates, and Nationals organizations, getting all the way to Triple-A in the Pirates system in 2013. His .304/.328/.415 line in 180 PA this year in Portland is impressive, but is really a bit of an outlier for him at the double-A level, as he has previously posted seasons of 75 wRC+, 76, and 39 (in 492, 221, and 57 PA, respectively). On his fourth trip through the level, at age 25, he seems to have figured things out a bit, but as I said it is the clear outlier and there is still time for our old friend regression to take hold of things. With all that said, it is not his bat that makes Tejeda interesting, it is his positional versatility. At Baseball Prospectus he is listed as a left fielder, at FanGraphs he is listed as a second baseman/shortstop, and at MiLB.com he is listed as a third baseman. The lack of consistent listing reflects how he has moved around this season in Portland. According to the lineups posted at SoxProspects.com he has started two games at short, 19 at third, 11 in left field, and six in right field. If he is going to get a ticket to the big leagues it will be due to this ability to play defense all over the diamond, although even with that a future major league roster spot seems unlikely.
High-A Salem: Manuel Margot, OF, Trey Ball, LHP, and Williams Jerez, LHP
Margot is a top-five prospect in the Red Sox system with all five tools, already earning the ‘honor’ of being mentioned in many Cole Hamels trade rumours. His season has been of the up and down sort. In April he posted an .891 OPS, and avoided striking out in his first 69 plate appearances. Then May rolled around and Margot’s performance went down with it, posting a .310 OPS in 37 plate appearances. Some of this downturn was likely a result of the shoulder injury that eventually landed him on the disabled list for the last few weeks of May. The good news is that since returning from the DL he has been back to his April ways at the plate (.870 OPS so far in June). He has yet to draw a walk since coming back, which is problematic, but he is still striking out at a wonderfully low rate (4.3%).
The Red Sox had the seventh overall pick in the 2015 first-year player draft that was held last Monday, a spot at which they picked in the 2013 draft when they selected left-handed pitcher Trey Ball from New Castle Chrysler High School in Indiana. Unfortunately, thus far Ball has not lived up to his status as a first-round pick. In 100.0 innings at Low-A Greenville last year, he had a 4.68 ERA, 4.66 FIP, and a less than exciting 68:39 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Despite the rough year at Low-A he was advanced to High-A to start this season, and things have not gone much better. In 58.2 innings this year he has a 3.99 ERA, 5.02 FIP, with an ugly 37:25 K:BB. In fact, he has walked more batters than he has struck out in four of his 11 starts, but struck out nine and only walked two in his most recent start, which is hopefully a step in the right direction. Overall, not a lot has gone well for Mr. Ball. At 21 he is still somewhat young for the level, but this is not at all the sort of thing that the organization wants to see from a top-level draft pick.
Williams Jerez is an interesting story, as he does not come to pitching naturally, but rather is a converted outfielder. After struggling to hit in his first three seasons in the Red Sox system, Jerez became a pitcher in 2014 and his potential future now looks brighter. In 2014, between rookie ball and short season A-ball, he struck out 40 of the 150 batters he faced, only allowed 14 runs, and did not allow a home run. He started this year at low-A Greenville, pitched 39.1 excellent innings (2.06 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 43:10 K:BB), and recently earned himself a promotion to a Salem. Given that Jerez is still new to pitching – he only has 77.0 innings under his belt – it should not be a real surprise that he is still a work in progress. His best bet to advance through the system is as a reliever where he can rear back and fire his mid-90s fastball most of the time and avoid needing to develop command of secondary pitches and the ability to navigate through a lineup multiple times. His progress is worth tracking.
Low-A Greenville: Rafael Devers, 3B
The Greenville team has a number of interesting players, and chief among them is 18-year-old Rafael Devers. Devers, in his first season of A-ball after crushing things in rookie ball, has been tremendous with the bat. Through his first 200 plate appearances he was hitting .321/.354/.455, with 18 extra-base hits. While he is only walking in 4.5% of his plate appearances, which is a huge drop from the rate he had in rookie ball, he is hitting well enough and for enough power that the lack of walks is not really affecting his value. He will need to demonstrate more of a command on the strike zone as he progresses through the system, or it will stall his advancement. For now, though, he can just focus on continuing to dominate his older opponents.
Photos by Kelly O’Connor, www.sittingstill.smugmug.com